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Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson
Stephenson at Science Foo Camp 2008
Born Neal Town Stephenson
(1959-10-31) October 31, 1959
Fort Meade, Maryland, United States
Pen name Stephen Bury
(with J. Frederick George)
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, essayist
Nationality American
Period 1984–present
Genre Speculative fiction, historical fiction, essays
Literary movement Cyberpunk, postcyberpunk, maximalism
Website
.comnealstephenson

Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an award-winning American writer and game designer known for his works of speculative fiction.

His novels have been variously categorized as science fiction, historical fiction, cyberpunk, and "postcyberpunk". Other labels, such as "baroque", have been used.

Stephenson's work explores subjects such as

He has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (funded by Jeff Bezos) developing a manned sub-orbital launch system, and is also a cofounder of Subutai Corporation, whose first offering is the interactive fiction project The Mongoliad. He is currently Magic Leap's Chief Futurist.

Contents

  • Life 1
  • Career 2
    • Non-fiction 2.1
  • Style 3
  • Works 4
    • Novels 4.1
    • Short fiction 4.2
    • Other fiction projects 4.3
    • Non-fiction 4.4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Life

Born on October 31, 1959 in Fort Meade, Maryland,[1] Stephenson came from a family of engineers and scientists; his father is a professor of electrical engineering while his paternal grandfather was a physics professor. His mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory, and her father was a biochemistry professor. Stephenson's family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, in 1960 and then in 1966 to Ames, Iowa. He graduated from Ames High School in 1977.[2]

Stephenson studied at Boston University,[2] first specializing in physics, then switching to geography after he found that it would allow him to spend more time on the university mainframe.[3] He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in geography and a minor in physics.[2] Since 1984, Stephenson has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Seattle with his family.[2]

Career

Discussing Anathem at MIT in 2008

Stephenson's first novel, The Big U, published in 1984, was a satirical take on life at American Megaversity, a vast, bland and alienating research university beset by chaotic riots.[4][5] His next novel, Zodiac (1988), was a thriller following the exploits of a radical environmentalist protagonist in his struggle against corporate polluters.[4] Neither novel attracted much critical attention on first publication, but showcased concerns that Stephenson would further develop in his later work.[4]

Stephenson's breakthrough came in 1992 with Interface, under the pen name "Stephen Bury";[8] they followed this in 1996 with The Cobweb.

Stephenson's next solo novel, published in 1995, was The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, which introduced many of today's real world technological discoveries. Seen back then as futuristic, Stephenson's novel has broad range universal self-learning nanotechnology, dynabooks, extensive modern technologies, robotics, cybernetics and cyber cities. Weapons implanted in characters' skulls, near limitless replicators for everything from mattresses to foods, smartpaper, air and blood-sanitizing nanobots, set in a grim future world of limited resources populated by hard edged survivalists, an amalgamation hero is accidentally conceptualized by a few powerful and wealthy creatives, programmers and hackers.

This was followed by Cryptonomicon in 1999, a novel concerned with concepts ranging from computing and Alan Turing's research into codebreaking and cryptography during the Second World War at Bletchley Park, to a modern attempt to set up a data haven. It has subsequently been reissued in three separate volumes in some countries, including in French and Spanish translations. In 2013, Cryptonomicon won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award.

The Baroque Cycle is a series of historical novels set in the 17th and 18th centuries, and is in some respects a prequel to Cryptonomicon. It was originally published in three volumes of two or three books each – Quicksilver (2003), The Confusion (2004) and The System of the World (2004) – but was subsequently republished as eight separate books: Quicksilver, King of the Vagabonds, Odalisque, Bonanza, Juncto, Solomon's Gold, Currency, and System of the World. (The titles and exact breakdown vary in different markets.) The System of the World won the Prometheus Award in 2005.

Following this, Stephenson published a novel titled Anathem (2008), a very long and detailed work, perhaps best described as speculative fiction. It is set in an Earthlike world (perhaps in an alternative reality), deals with metaphysics, and refers heavily to Ancient Greek philosophy, while at the same time being a complex commentary on the insubstantiality of today's society.

In May 2010, the Subutai Corporation, of which Stephenson was named chairman, announced the production of an experimental multimedia fiction project called The Mongoliad, which centered around a narrative written by Stephenson and other speculative fiction authors.[9][10]

REAMDE, a novel, was released on September 20, 2011.[11] The title is a play on the common filename README. This thriller, set in the present, centers around a group of MMORPG developers caught in the middle of Chinese cyber-criminals, Islamic terrorists, and Russian mafia.[12]

On August 7, 2012, Stephenson released a collection of essays and other previously published fiction entitled Some Remarks : Essays and Other Writing.[13] This collection also includes a new essay and a short story created specifically for this volume.

In 2012 Stephenson launched a Kickstarter campaign for CLANG, a realistic sword fighting fantasy game. The concept of the game was to use motion control to provide an immersive experience. The campaign's funding goal of $500,000 was reached by the target date of July 9, 2012 on Kickstarter, but funding options remained open and were still taking contributions to the project on their official site.[14] The project ran out of money in September 2013.[15] This, and the circumstances around it, has angered some backers.[16] There has even been talk, among the backers, of a potential class action lawsuit.[17] The project to develop the game ended in September 2014 without the game being completed. Stephenson took part of the responsibility for the project's failure, stating that "I probably focused too much on historical accuracy and not enough on making it sufficiently fun to attract additional investment".[18]

In late 2013, Stephenson stated that he was working on a multi-volume work – historical novels that would "have a lot to do with scientific and technological themes and how those interact with the characters and civilisation during a particular span of history". He expected the first two volumes to be released in mid-to-late 2014.[19] However, at about the same time, he shifted his attention to a science fiction novel, Seveneves, which was completed about a year later and was published in May 2015.[20]

In 2014, Stephenson was hired as Chief Futurist by the Florida-based company Magic Leap.[21] Magic Leap claims to be developing a revolutionary form of augmented reality, not too different from technologies Stephenson previously has described in his science fiction books.

Non-fiction

The science fiction approach doesn't mean it's always about the future;
it's an awareness that this is different.

– Neal Stephenson, September 1999[22]

Stephenson has also written non-fiction. In The Beginning Was The Command Line, an essay on operating systems including the histories of and relationships between DOS, Windows, Linux, and BeOS from both cultural and technical viewpoints and focusing especially on the development of the Graphical User Interface, was published in book form in 2000.[5] Various other essays have been published in magazines such as Wired.

With the 2003 publication of Quicksilver, Applied Minds debuted The Metaweb, an online wiki annotating the ideas and historical period explored in the novel. The project was influenced by the online encyclopaedia WorldHeritage, and its content included annotations from Stephenson himself.[23]

Stephenson's 2011 essay "Innovation Starvation"[24] lamented the lack of visionary large-scale projects in the world. One concept he cited as an example of such visionary concepts is the idea of a 20-kilometer "tall tower" extending to the edges of the atmosphere;[25] Stephenson then followed this up with work in collaboration with Arizona State University on the engineering of such tall towers.[26]

Style

In his earlier novels Stephenson deals heavily in pop culture-laden metaphors and imagery and in quick, hip dialogue, as well as in extended narrative monologues. The tone of his books is generally more irreverent and less serious than that of previous cyberpunk novels, notably those of William Gibson.

Stephenson at the Starship Century Symposium at UCSD in 2013

Stephenson's books tend to have elaborate, inventive plots drawing on numerous technological and sociological ideas at the same time. This distinguishes him from other mainstream science fiction authors who tend to focus on a few technological or social changes in isolation from others. The discursive nature of his writing, together with significant plot and character complexity and an abundance of detail suggests a baroque writing style, which Stephenson brought fully to bear in the three-volume Baroque Cycle.[27] His book The Diamond Age follows a simpler plot but features "neo-Victorian" characters and employs Victorian-era literary conceits. In keeping with the baroque style, Stephenson's books have become longer as he has gained recognition. For example, the paperback editions of Cryptonomicon are over eleven hundred pages long[28] with the novel containing various digressions, including a lengthy erotic story about antique furniture and stockings.

Works

Stephenson at the National Book Festival in 2004

Novels

Short fiction

Other fiction projects

  • Project Hieroglyph, founded in 2011, administered by Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination since 2012. Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, ed. Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer, which includes contributions by Stephenson, was published by William Morrow in September, 2014.

Non-fiction

  • "Smiley's people". 1993.
  • "In the Kingdom of Mao Bell". Wired. 1994. "A billion Chinese are using new technology to create the fastest growing economy on the planet. But while the information wants to be free, do they?"
  • "Mother Earth Mother Board". Wired. 1996. "In which the Hacker Tourist ventures forth across three continents, telling the story of the business and technology of undersea fiber-optic cables, as well as an account of the laying of the longest wire on Earth."
  • "Global Neighborhood Watch". Wired. 1998. Stopping street crime in the global village.
  • In the Beginning... Was the Command Line. Harpers Perennial. 1999. ISBN 0-380-81593-1.
  • "Communication Prosthetics: Threat, or Menace?". Whole Earth Review, Summer 2001.
  • "Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out". Op-Ed piece on Star Wars, in The New York Times, June 17, 2005.
  • "It's All Geek To Me". Op-Ed piece on the film 300 and geek culture, The New York Times, March 18, 2007.
  • "Atoms of Cognition: Metaphysics in the Royal Society 1715–2010," chapter in Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society, edited by Bill Bryson. Stephenson discusses the legacy of the rivalry between Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, November 2, 2010.
  • "Space Stasis". Slate. February 2, 2011. "What the strange persistence of rockets can teach us about innovation."
  • "Innovation Starvation". World Policy Journal, 2011.
  • Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing. William Morrow. 2012. ISBN 0062024434.

References

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ a b c
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Twitter / subutaicorp: @LordBronco We're still taking. Twitter.com. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.
  15. ^ Famous Kickstarter Turns Into Complete Disaster. Kotaku.com. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.
  16. ^ THUD: Development Of Neal Stephenson’s CLANG Halted. Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.
  17. ^ Neal Stephenson Says His Dream Of Making A Video Game Isn't Dead | Kotaku Australia. Kotaku.com.au. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Kelion, Leo. (2013-09-17) BBC News - Neal Stephenson on tall towers and NSA cyber-spies. Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.
  20. ^ a b
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ Stephenson, Neal, "Innovation Starvation", World Policy Journal, 2011; reprinted in Wired, 10/27/2011 (retrieved 1 Sept 2013).
  25. ^ Landis, Geoffrey, and Denis, Vincent, "High Altitude Launch for a Practical SSTO," Conference on Next Generation Space Transportation, Space Technology & Applications International Forum, Albuquerque NM, Feb. 2-6 2003; AIP Conference Proceedings Vol. 654, pp 290-295. (pdf on NASA site)
  26. ^ Project Hieroglyph, The Tall Tower, Arizona State University Center for Science and the Imagination (retrieved 1 Sept. 2015)
  27. ^
  28. ^ ex:
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h
  30. ^ William Morrow. Harpercollinscatalogs.com. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.

External links

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